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Rising Sea Levels Threaten 233 Endangered Species

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Sea-level rise driven by climate change poses a deadly threat to 233 federally protected animal and plant species in 23 coastal states, according to a new scientific report from the Center for Biological Diversity, and U.S. wildlife protection agencies are not doing enough to protect at-risk species.

In a letter to the two wildlife agencies, Center scientists pointed out that the federal government’s existing wildlife policies offer little useful guidance or strategies for protecting endangered species from sea-level rise. The letter urges officials to revamp species-protection plans to focus on the threat.

For the Deadly Waters report, Center scientists analyzed data from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service, as well as scientific literature. The Center found that 17 percent—one in six—of the nation’s threatened and endangered species are at risk from rising sea levels and storm surges. The report also details the specific danger to five of the species most threatened by sea-level rise.

“From Florida’s key deer to Hawaii’s monk seals, some of our most amazing creatures could be doomed as the oceans swallow up their last habitat and nesting sites,” said Dr. Shaye Wolf, the Center’s climate science director. “If we don’t move fast to cut carbon pollution and protect ecosystems, climate chaos could do tremendous damage to our web of life."

"Federal wildlife officials have to step up efforts to protect America’s endangered species from the deadly threat of rising seas," Wolf concluded.

The Center’s analysis follows a stark warning from the National Research Council, which recently released a report saying that global warming threatens to inflict rapid and catastrophic changes on some ecosystems and could cause a mass extinction of plants and animals.  

The U.S. is home to approximately 1,500 federally protected threatened and endangered species, many of which depend on coastal and island habitats for survival. As greenhouse gas pollution builds up in the atmosphere, rising oceans and increasingly dangerous storm surges will threaten already endangered animals that inhabit coastal wetlands, beaches and other vulnerable ecosystems.

Here are five of the most at-risk species:

Five of the Species Most Threatened by Sea-level Rise

Species at Risk

Current Population

Key Fact

1. Key deer

Approximately 800 deer

About 86 percent of islands occupied by Florida’s Key deer are less than 3 feet above sea level.

2. Loggerhead sea turtle

Approximately 17,000 females nesting each year in the United States

At Florida’s Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge, 42 percent of loggerhead nesting beaches are expected to disappear with 1.5 feet of sea-level rise.

3. Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel

20,000 to 38,000 squirrels

Half of the fox squirrels’ habitat would be inundated by 6 feet of sea-level rise, which could occur in this century.

4. Western snowy plover

2,500 adults

A third of the West Coast beach habitat areas used by the plovers are less than 3 feet above sea level.

5. Hawaiian monk seal

About 1,000 seals

Sea-level rise poses a serious threat to monk seals’ pupping beaches; one key island has already disappeared.

The 23 states with endangered species threatened by sea-level rise are Alabama, Alaska, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Washington.

 Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE and BIODIVERSITY pages for more related news on this topic.

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